The Unsung Hero: Reference Designs from 3 Companies Aim to Inspire EEs

July 31, 2021 by Antonio Anzaldua Jr.

Often overlooked, reference designs can be an EEs best friend. Maxim Integrated, STMicroelectronics, and Microchip aim to help design facial detecting IoT, MasterGaN devices, and for Qi 1.3.

When an electrical component is released into the market, it is usually coupled with an electrical reference design. These designs provide a designer with helpful information such as PCB layouts, performance curves, schematics, validation software, and debugging tools. 

Reference designs typically don’t cost a dime. They are easily accessible for designers to ensure a project’s time to market is sped up and reduces any struggles in meeting design specifications.  


A reference design example from STMicroelectronics for its MasterGaN1.

A reference design example from STMicroelectronics for its MasterGaN1. Image used courtesy of STMicroelectronics


There was a time when engineers didn’t receive any reference designs to use; however, as time has progressed and technology has advanced to greater heights, reference designs are essential to the design process. A complete, pre-tested circuit will minimize design faults and allow engineers to meet strict deadlines. 

Recently, three manufacturers widely recognized in the electrical community, Maxim Integrated, STMicroelectronics, and Microchip, have released reference designs for different applications, all with one common goal, providing engineers with ongoing support. 

This article will take a look at the most recent reference designs coming out of these companies.


Maxim's Robust Reference Board for an AI Microcontroller

Artificial intelligence (AI) requires heavy computational horsepower coupled with large amounts of data needing storage. With this application in mind, Maxim Integrated, along with Xailient, announced its newest device with the reference design, the MAX78000, an ARM Cortex-based, ultra-low power neural-network microcontroller that can detect and localize faces in video and images. 


Maxim Integrated's IoT face detection reference design.

Maxim Integrated and Xailient's IoT face detection reference design. Image used courtesy of Maxim Integrated


Maxim Integrated has established a new AI microcontroller that enables neural networks in AI models to execute ultra-low power. To assist engineers with the MAX78000 microcontroller is the MAXREFDES178, a cube camera reference design. 

When developers purchase the MAXREFDES178 hardware package, they receive two MAX78000 microcontrollers and the reference design, which features a convolution neural network accelerator. 


Block diagram for the MAXREFDES178 reference design. Image used courtesy of Maxim Integrated.


The accelerator enables lithium-ion-powered applications to execute AI inferences without exhausting as much energy. Design flexibility is essential for designers, and this architecture allows for networks to be trained in industry-standard toolsets like PyTorch and TensorFlow.  

The microcontroller has 512 KB flash memory and 128 KB SRAM as the on-chip system memory. The reference design also features a digital microphone, color imaging sensor, micro SD connector, and Bluetooth low energy (BLE5) connectivity.

This reference design helps the designer create an application for Maxim's microcontroller, the next reference design will help integrate MasterGaN1 technology.


ST's MasterGaN1 for 250 W Resonant Converter

The second reference design this article is rounding up is from STMicroelectronics (ST). Recently, ST released its first reference design that could help designers integrate into an existing system and increase power density and energy efficiency. 

The EVLMG-250WLLC is a 250 W resonant converter that features new technology, the MasterGaN1. This technology contains a half-bridge gate driver with two 650 V normally-off GaN transistors with logic inputs ranging from 3.3 V to 15 V. 


The block diagram for EVLMG-250WLLC.

The block diagram for EVLMG-250WLLC. Image used courtesy of STMicroelectronics


MasterGaN1 claims to be a highly efficient, soft-switching topology that includes active clamp flyback-forward converters and bridgeless power factor correction (PFC) in 400 V AC/DC power supplies, DC/DC converters, and DC/AC inverters. 

What allows this reference design to stand out is the primary and secondary options. The primary side runs heatsink-free, able to regulate the device’s temperature without external components. The secondary side features a synchronous rectifier (SR) controller SRK2001, an adaptive synchronous rectification controller which implements a control scheme to eliminate parasitic inductance. 

MasterGaN1 delivers fast-switching, GaN power transistors that can operate at high frequencies that will expand on the capabilities of magnetic components and capacitors. These components will hold larger power densities and return a reduced cost to the overall design. 

ST hopes that its reference design can help engineers better integrate and utilize the benefits of MasterGaN1 technology. The final set of designs hopes to benefit automotive and consumer applications. 


Microchip’s Wireless Power Reference Designs

Finally, the month of July brought on some robust reference designs from Microchip. These designs aim to accelerate automotive and consumer applications through wireless transmission. Each reference design revolves around a new QI 1.3 wireless charging system that offers secure storage subsystem software and foreign object detection implementation. 


A Qi 1.3 wireless charger reference design.

A Qi 1.3 wireless charger reference design. Image used courtesy of Microchip


Microchip’s reference designs are robust, like the 15 W multi-coil transmitter reference design consisting of wireless design through Qi 1.3 standard. This reference design provides flexibility from software to hardware and supports fast-charging schemes. 

The second reference design released by Microchip is the 300 W wireless design that functions around the WP300TX transmitter and WP300RX receiver controllers. Both reference designs provide foreign object detection to a digital signal controller, which is a big plus for automotive and consumer applications.  


This reference design is able to operate at 300 W with 90% efficiency while the transmitter and receiver controllers are 5-10 mm apart.

This reference design is able to operate at 300 W with 90% efficiency while the transmitter and receiver controllers are 5-10 mm apart. Image used courtesy of Microchip


Also, the 15 W reference design will target smartphone charging through Qi wireless technology. In contrast, designers can utilize the 300 W design for underwater drones and EVs to implement wireless power transfer. 

After rounding up all of these reference designs, it is clear how important and beneficial reference designs are for electrical engineers.


Reference Designs: An EEs Best Friend

Whether engineers are working on AI face detection, power conversion, or wireless charging, reference designs will be the helping hand designers can rely on. 

These reference designs can offer documentation, datasheets, models, design notes, verification test results, schematics, bill of materials, and PCB layouts. As time moves forward, design references will alleviate engineer’s workloads to focus on overall system functionality and purpose rather than integration hurdles. 



Have you recently used a reference design? What ones have you used? What were your experiences? Share your thoughts in the comments down below.